Image Stabilization: When to Use it and When to Turn it Off

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Image stabilization, or vibration reduction, O.I.S., Optical SteadyShot, SR, VC, VR, MEGA O.I.S., and other equally catchy monikers, are technologies that enable photographers to take pictures under lighting conditions that once upon a time would have been considered too iffy for capturing sharp still images. Depending on the make, model, and vintage of your IS-enabled camera or lens, image stabilization allows you to capture sharp pictures at shutter speeds three, four, or five times slower than previously possible.

The rule of thumb for capturing sharp, handheld imagery is that you shouldn’t handhold a camera at shutter speeds slower than the equivalent focal length of the lens. This means a 500mm lens shouldn’t be handheld at speeds slower than 1/500-second, a 300mm lens slower than 1/300-second, a 50mm lens slower than 1/50-second, and a 20mm lens slower than 1/20-second.

Add image stabilization into the mix and suddenly you can capture sharp images of still objects with a 500mm lens at speeds down to 1/60-second, a 300mm lens at speeds down to 1/30-second, and a 20mm lens at speeds down to 1/2-second.

The problem is that, while setting up a new camera for the first time, many shooters turn the camera or lens’s image stabilization on and never look back, figuring “If I need it, it’s on,” but depending on your particular camera or lens, that may or may not be such a good idea.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the subject, it’s important to clarify a common misconception about image stabilization, which is that it enables you to “freeze” fast-moving objects at slower shutter speeds. This is totally false. Image stabilization only allows you the ability to capture sharp images of static subjects at slower speeds. Moving objects will be equally blurry or streaky—and in some cases blurrier or shakier with the IS turned on.

Lens-based stabilization: Camera and lens system when still

There are two types of image stabilization (IS): lens based and in camera. Lens-based stabilization uses a floating lens element, which is electronically controlled and shifted opposite to any camera shake recorded by the camera. In-camera systems work similarly, but will physically shift the image sensor to compensate for these movements. As for which form of image stabilization is better, there are pros and cons for both sides.

Lens-based stabilization: Camera and lens system jerked downwards, producing camera shake

The advantages of in-lens image stabilization include smoother performance when using longer focal length lenses. The downside of lens-based image stabilization is that it’s not available as an option for all lenses and it adds to the cost of the lens. Then again, if you don’t need IS, you often have the option of purchasing a non-IS version of the lens, or at least something similar.

Lens-based stabilization: Correction made by IS lens group

The pros of in-camera image stabilization are that you gain the advantages of IS technology with any lens you can mount on the camera for considerably less cost than multiple IS-enabled optics. The downside of in-camera image stabilization is that it’s less effective at smoothing the bumps when shooting with longer focal length optics when compared to lens-based image stabilization.

Camera-based stabilization: Camera and lens system when still

If you mount the camera on a tripod (or similar stable platform) without cutting the IS, you risk creating what’s called a feedback loop, in which the camera’s IS system essentially detects its own vibrations and starts moving around, even when the rest of the camera is completely still. This introduces motion objects to your camera system and brings with it blurriness. This is one of the key reasons to turn off image stabilization.

Camera-based stabilization: Camera and lens system jerked downwards, producing camera shake

Many systems feature specialized modes for panning action and this should be used when shooting action and other subjects that require constant side-to-side motion. However, some older lenses and entry-level systems may not have this option, or may not operate properly when panning, resulting in more blurring. This is an instance when it may be beneficial to turn your stabilization system off.

Lens-based stabilization: Sensor shift ameliorates camera shake

Also, another reason one could come up with to shut down their stabilization system is battery life. Electronically controlled and measured, IS will eat up battery power. This is especially true with larger lenses and larger sensors, which inherently require more energy to move around.

On a final note: it is well worth mentioning that, for the sharpest results when photographing still subjects, nothing beats a camera mounted on a sturdy tripod with the image stabilization turned off. This is because image stabilization, by its very nature, using motion along one axis to counter motion in the opposite axis, often creates varying degrees of image degradation of its own, whereas a camera firmly coupled to a stable tripod and tripped with a cable or remote release with the mirror locked in the up position will, in almost every instance, take a sharper picture.

138 Comments

Hi there, I’m using a sony A7iii and a sony 55mm 1.8 Zeiss. I have a question to ask. Whenever i try to pan with my gimbal, I don’t know why the footage shifts a little bit and back to normal even tho my stability body is turn on. But if i turn off the stability, there’s no wobbly occurs. Is that normal? 

Being that the gimbal is acting as a support for your camera, the shifting that you're seeing is most likely the in-body stabilization trying to fight any movement in the camera. You can keep the stabilizer off in this case.

I have a Canon EOS R which has no IBIS. I realize this isnt the most ideal camera for sports or wildlife photography, but I like to shoot at these venues nonetheless. If i have a high shutter speed say 2000, should I leave lens IS off? Is there a rule about what shutter speed this option isnt needed handheld?

You can certainly use the lens IS on while shooting at a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second, particularly when the lens is very heavy and/or the camera is being hand-held.

For the reasons explained in the (very good) article above, as you will be shooting moving subjects, and as you will be using a very high shutter speed, I would avoid all possibilities of jeopardy by turning IS OFF. It will almost certainly complicate matters by  its reactions to your movement and introduce artefacts into (especially) your backgrounds. That's my extensive (professional wildlife) experience with OLY and the 300mm f4. IS is fantastic for handheld 'perching portraits with e shutter' (se set it up as one of your custom functions if available) but IMO never use it for things flying, swimming or driving. And try to stay above 1/2000!

That's why my photos doesn't look that good, i mean i do my best, but still there's something wrong with photos, not angle not light. Just when you zoom in it looks weird like blurry-grainy, even in focused things. But generally not that bad. i use Canon T6i with 18-55mm III, which none of them has image stabilizator.

shooting sport (surfing) speed blurs. IS on or off?

I can get a nice clear lock on subject (most of the time) when panning along with this setup
Sony A6300, 70-300 G-lens, ND filter on a heavy Manfrotto tripod

BUT not with this setup:
Sony A6300, 200-600mm G-lens, ND filter on a heavy Manfrotto tripod

I have an Em1 mark ii and am looking at purchasing a telephoto lens (possibly the Panasonic 50-200mm f2.8-4 or the Panasonic 100-300mm mark ii OIS lenses). At which lens length does it make sense to use the lens OIS and switch off the E-M1's IBIS?  I am not purchasing the Olympus 40-150mm nor the 300mm PRO lenses.

You may use either the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 50-200mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. Lens or the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 II POWER O.I.S. Lens on the Olympus O-MD E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless Digital Camera.  While the lens' built-in O.I.S. will work on the camera, it will not offer the Dual IS or Sync IS capabilities as you would have when using an Olympus lens on your camera.  As such, you would have to either use the lens' built-in image stabilization or the camera's built-in image stabilization, but both cannot be used simultaneously.  While I do not have a set focal length at which it may be advantageous to use one over the other, I would say if you will basically be stationary and panning with your subject (moving the front of your lens left/right to follow action), or possibly following vertical movement (such as following action by moving the front of your lens up/down), then I would use the lens' image stabilization (as lenses typically only correct for pitch/yaw).  If you will be physically moving while simultaneously following the action, the in-camera IBIS may be more beneficial.  Personally, in telephoto lenses, I prefer using the lens' stabilization, but if you must switch back-and-forth, it would depend on my movement.  The longer the lens, the more the sensor has to move to compensate for the shake, and as the space for such sensor movements is limited, sensor-stabilized lenses are generally less effective than optically-stabilized lenses, which is why I prefer the lens' stabilization for telephoto lens usage and would forego the switching-back-and-forth method with telephoto lenses.

I have a GH5 with an OIS lens (in-body + in-lens IS), and I just bought a Weebill S gimbal. I still need to do some more testing, but I’m trying to figure out if my video footage is better or worse on the gimbal with IS on. It seems like with it on, there *might* be some jerking around of the image during certain movements like panning. Obviously I’ll continue testing, but I wonder what others have experienced. 

Thanks for the helpful article, I have a question. I'm using a Canon 6D II for panorama shot, but i'm mounting it on a budget tripod. My last shot was on a bridge with strong wind that I believe cause some vibrations to the cheap tripod. Is it to my advantage to turn IS on, since in my opinion in this case the vibration present is similar to that of a handheld shot? Thanks

Hmm. It could help here. Honestly, if possible, try doing one panorama with IS and one without and compare.

I'm using A73 Sony for mostly videography for sports. I wanna buy the new e mount lenses 7-28mm and 70-180mm from Tamron but they doesn't have VC like others. should i get those anyway or it's better getting VC lenses with an adapter ? 

Thanks,

Being that your A7 III already has an excellent 5 axis image stabilization system built into it, there is no need to have it within the lenses, such as with the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD and the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD.  

The Sony A73 sensor stabilizer moves inside the camera body?

I bought the A73 yesterday and when I shake it a little I feel an inside part moving.

The seller says it's the sensor's stabilizer

Is it correct or is the product defective?

Thank you!

This is correct. This series does move a little even when off.

I'm using a Sony A6300/16-50 kit lens with a gimbal should I turn off Optical Steady Shot or leave it on for smooth video?

You could leave the OSS on if you wanted in such a set up.  It would not hurt the video.

When shooting video on a Sony A7 iii, how important is it to purchase a lens with stabilization? I'm trying to decide between a Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA E-Mount Lens or a Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS Lens. The former is nearly 3X more expensive and doesn't have lens stabilization, but since I'm using it the Sony A7 iii, how important is that? And how do the two compare image wise? is the former 3X better glass?

The Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA E-Mount Lens is a much better quality lens in terms of durability and sharpness. Since the A7 III already have a good in body stabilization, you would not need to have a lens with stabilization built in.  That being said, the Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA is a solid choice.

If I'm using IBIS switched On with the camera body as well as the OIS on the lens at the same time, does that effect shake? Is it better to have it on the body or lens or does both make it better/worse?

Whether the in-body stabilization will have any effect with the lens stabilization turned on would depend on the make/model of the camera and lens.  In some cameras, using both stabilization systems at the same time would be more helpful to ensure that the image would be steadier.

I can't determine whether the image stabilization is working on a used, Canon EF 70-200mm IS f2.8L II lens, that I just purchased. The lens appears to be in perfect shape.  When I activate the IS, I can hear the faint noise of the gyroscope, but there is no image adjustment in. the viewfinder.  Pictures I take with the IS on and off, show no apparent difference.  Shouldn't there be some visible adjustment in the viewfinder?

Yes, there should be a visible difference in the viewfinder.  I would suggest zooming in as much as possible and then flipping the IS off and on while hand holding the camera.  Your eyes should see a difference in the shake.  If you cannot see it in the viewfinder maybe you could try some test photos or even video with the IS off and on to see if there is any difference.

Thanks!

I was looking at the Nikon 5600 and I noticed it doesn't have iso. Will that matter much? I enjoy whale watching so most of my pictures are taken on a rocky boat/while moving. Thanks for your help.

Hi Mel,

The D5600 does have ISO control as well as an AUTO-ISO function.  If you have the camera set for AUTO-ISO, that is going to adjust depending on the scene, whether you have more or less light there. 

HAhah Kirk isnt playing fair (or maybe he genuinely misunderstood you) But no Mel, you are correct. Your D5600 does NOT have IS in body. You would have to buy a lens that has it in order to take your beautiful whale photos while on a boat.

-NOTE- since you typed "ISO" instead of "IS" Kirk decided to answer an unrelated question.. But seeing as how this is an article about IS/Image Stabilization he should have been able to figure that out.

I try to use IS in the most cases. But if the camera is on tripod or monopod - I try to turn off IS. 
Its really help me to save battery. Once, during the music festival, I turned off the IS on 70-200mm f2.8 and was able to shoot more than 9000 pics for one full charge of the battery(LP-E4N) on my Canon 1Dx :)

I often shoot stage action at low light. I use a Nikon 28-300 zoom more and less 5.6. To freeze the action I need a minimum speed of 250 and obviously a high iso. I absolute have to shoot handheld as my subjects are all over the stage. Sofar I have been using IS on. Do you suggest I turn it of because of my subjects moving. I realize that I still have to shoot many pics as many will still be out of focus dew to human errors on my side. I am very experienced though.

Should you use IS handholding when you have already got a fast enough shutter speed?  say at 50mm you have a correct exposure at 1/250 tv?  

Depends? I would say it couldn't hurt if the shutter speed is already fast enough. I wouldn't worry too much about leaving it on in this case cause it may help in other ways, such as stabilizing the viewfinder or simply compensating for shake that you can't see.

I ran across the IS with a tripod issue quite by just guessing it might be a problem. I had taken a number of pictures with a Canon EFS 17-85 with IS, both handheld and on a tripod. Handheld... No problem. Upon looking at the results I was stunned to see evidence of shake in the tripod mounted shots. "No way this can be!" I thought. Then, strictly on a hunch, I put the camera and lens back on the tripod, turned off the IS and what do you know? The 'shake' that had been seen when IS was turned on went away. I still wasn't convinced this was a real problem until I 'Googled' it and began seeing other reports of the same thing happening. I guess if the IS mechanism is 'all dressed up with nothing to do' it gets a bit nervous and does shaking of its own.... :^)

Great article. Important for me to find as it settles some questions I was having about VR - especially for a new big lens purchase (with and without VR options) I'm about to do. One thing to add, having VR inbuilt in a lens makes it extra HEAVY in comparison to a lens without it added. I previously owned a Nikon 300 f2.8 and the VR in that lens (plus front element and the build of course) made it just about hand holdable but boy, carrying it arounsd all day I sure felt it.

Interesting points about the VR being turned off  when the camera and lens are mounted on a tripod. For big lens extra stability (hand holding these monsters coupled to DLSR cameras with battery grips) will only be for very short periods only - even for the strongest individuals so at least  mounting everything to a monopod is a real sensible option I'm advised. So in these circumstances VR in uneccessary.

Thanks again Shawn.

Thanks for the comment Robert!

I have found that Panasonic's Dual IS impairs panning and tilting action in shooting video. When using non-Panasonic, manual-focus "legacy" lenses adapted to M4/3 mount, the in-body stabliization suffices for hand-held shooting, without the second (lens's IS) compounding and confounding it. The IS is switchable to accommodate panning with IS lenses, but it still gets confused, and titling still results in a delayed reaction, the subject not moving as fast as the camera/lens is being angled upward (image "wants to" stay in the frame).

What a great forum!

I have a Lumix GX8. I have a Lumix 14-140 lens with IS switch.

Would you recommend turning off the camera IS and turning on the lens IS? I hold my camera for most photos and want IS on. Just wondering your thoughts on best configuration.

Thanks so much in advance.

I have a Sony a7rii and I'm using a Sigma 24-105mm with a Sigma MC-11 adapter.  The lens has stabilization.  The body has stabilization.  Which do I use?  Is it bad to have both on?  

Hi Deebo,

As you already have all the equipment, it is going to be the best bet to simply try it with your current shooting style. Though, as long as there aren't any issues when using the adapter, it should be no problem using both at the same time. If that is problematic however I would probably default to the camera's stabilization.

Hi, I want to know, if I'm using a handheld stabilizer, should I use image stabilization?

I'm asking that because I don't know if it helps reduce the shake or not since the handheld removes alot of shake but is the lens able to still do the job?

Hi Guillaume,

There is unfortunately no clear answer to this question. I would guess that if you left the lens/camera IS turned on it wouldn't be harmful and could help. But, it really depends on the type and quality of the stabilizer that you have. You are really going to have to do your own testing with your specific equipment to figure out what works best for you.

Alright thank you for the reply :D

Hi, I have just purchased a Sony Cybershot HX400V which is very good so far. However, there only seems to be 3 'image stabilization' modes; Standard, Active and Intelligent Active-and from what I gather from forums there is no option to turn it OFF. I noticed that the image on the monitor was drifting whilst having the camera locked down on a tripod. Is there any way to solve this issue?

Hi Steve,

This is a bit unusual, but I can't seem to find any documentation that says you can turn it off. One thing that might affect this is your shooting mode. Sometimes certain settings are only accessible when in Manual or other "pro" control modes such as program, shutter priority, and aperture priority.

Hi B&H,

I had a question about IS on video. I recently acquired a 24-105mm Canon L series F/4 and heard a faint grinding/whirring noise coming from the lens itself. I called into the shop I bought the lens from and they said the sound will appear on every single L-series lens and it isn't just mine. The noise bugs me because sometimes I don't have access to my external microphone and I am primarily a videographer but would love to take photographs. Is it true that it is on all Canon L-series lens..? Any suggestions or recommendations? 

The noise only comes on when Image Stabilization is on*

Hi Cora,

At first I thought it was your AF, but if it only comes on when IS is on then its probably something you can't really do anything about. If you have the original 24-105mm the issue is that these older Canon lenses are not designed specifically for video and don't take that into account. The newer lenses however should be just fine in video with new motors that are silent specifically for this reason. The only advice I have is that you should look at some newer Canon lenses, especially the STM lenses, as they are designed with video in mind.

I am using a tripod with a  150-500mm sigma an a 150 - 600 tamron lens..... I just read this and now second guessing my photos since I was chasing a snowey owl for the last week here in PA.......... I had the VR on for both len's ........... and can not figure out why they are just a little out of focus

I shoot a Nikon 3200 on the one... and 3100 on the other... I know they are entry level Body's so could this be my issue, have the VR on........ ???

Look forward to hearin back

Hi Bob,

There are many reasons why this could be the case, with the likely culprits being the lenses just aren't quite that sharp, the shutter speed was too low (if the subject was moving), or a just slightly missed focus. It is possible that VR could introduce some softness, but as there are so many variations I highly advise testing equipment out before a critical shoot.

Is it advisable to keep image stabilization OFF while doing FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY?

Hi Rustom,

The answer, as it usually is, is that it depends. If you are shooting handheld with a speedlight and are doing a slow shutter with flash then IS is probably going to be helpful. If you are in a studio set up on a tripod, you'd probably be fine without it. 

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